Best known today as an English occultist and mystic, Aleister Crowley was born Edward Alexander Crowley in Warwickshire, England, to an upper class family. Aleister Crowley was active in several secret orders throughout his life, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (a Masonic brotherhood), the Order of Oriental Templars, and the Great White Brotherhood, which he co-founded. He left the biggest mark on modern occultism in founding the order of Thelema, a religious philosophy involving the ritual practice of magic that required its followers to master astral projection as part of the path to spiritual fulfillment.
Besides being a prominent occultist, Aleister Crowley was an outspoken libertine and social critic, mountaineer, student of yoga, and lifelong drug experimenter whose semi-autobiographical work, Diary of a Drug Fiend, chronicled his fascination with opium among other things. Aleister Crowley also recorded his experiences with visionary and dream herbs while traveling in India and Nepal, including a combination of alpine turmeric and wild alpine galangal that dream workers still use today. Though mostly known for his occult works, many of them self-published, Aleister Crowley also wrote and published fiction and poetry.
Around the same time as the Order of the Golden Dawn collapsed due to internal political conflicts, Aleister Crowley left England and traveled the world. On a honeymoon trip to Cairo with his wife, he was inspired to pen the Book of the Law, the foundational document of his religious philosophy of Thelema. He claimed the book had been dictated to him by a spiritual messenger of the Egyptian god Horus, and that as a result Crowley himself had become the prophet of the new Age of Horus that was about to descend on the world.
Aleister Crowley’s religious philosophy of Thelema was based on the seemingly simple tenet of “Do what thou wilt”. The name “thelema” comes from a Greek verb meaning “to will, wish, or desire”, and underscores the main idea of the religion, which is that practitioners should follow a life path dictated by what Aleister Crowley called the True Will, rather than by the ego and its transient desires. Thelema also involved the ritual practice of Magick (as Crowley deliberately spelled it), and the worship of a trilogy of Egyptian gods including Horus.
From 1920-1923, Aleister Crowley even founded an Abbey of Thelema in Palermo, Italy, as a kind of anti-monastery where practitioners were supposed to live their lives in accordance with the will-oriented principles of Thelema. He described it as a commune where people could live “not in laws, statutes or rules but according to their own free will and pleasure.” Ironically, Aleister Crowley had to close the Abbey of Thelema when he was expelled from Palermo by Benito Mussolini’s Italian fascist government.
Crowley considered mastering the art of astral projection in a ritual context to be essential for a practitioner to discover the nature of his or her True Will. Aleister Crowley described astral projection as a process in which a practitioner traveled to a higher spiritual realm in an astral form he called the Body of Light, transferring his or her awareness and senses to this astral body before the journey. In Chapter 13 of his Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley describes how to form an astral body and transfer your awareness to it:
“The first thing to do… is to get the body outside your own. To avoid muddling the two, you begin by imagining a shape resembling yourself standing in front of you… Try to imagine how your own body would look if you were standing in its place; try to transfer your consciousness to the Body of Light. Your own body has its eyes shut. Use the eyes of the Body of Light to describe the objects in the room behind you.”
In Thelema, astral projection usually took place in a quiet, dark room with the aid of chanting, music, and meditation on the part of the practitioner. Despite Aleister Crowley’s personal fascination with psychoactive herbs, these were rarely used in Thelemite astral projection rituals. Mastering astral projection was an essential skill for a practicing Thelemite because many of Thelema’s magical rites and initiation rituals were meant to be carried out when practitioners were in an astral state rather than an ordinary, embodied state.
In some ways, the process of astral projection that Crowley describes in Theory and Practice is simpler than many modern methods, but it still relies on developing mental focus and cultivating a meditative state that allows you to slip into the twilight realm of consciousness where astral projection can occur. Although many of his more esoteric ideas haven’t survived in practice after Aleister Crowley’s death, the blueprint he sets out for achieving astral projection is one that’s still useful for modern-day dream workers wanting to explore the realms beyond in their own Body of Light!